JJ 05/61: In My Opinion – Bert Courtley and Ronnie Ross

Sixty years ago Bert Courtley and Ronnie Ross had a really good moan about many fellow musicians but were over the moon about Louis Armstrong's show-stealing crotchets. First published in Jazz Journal May 1961

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Bert Courtley and Ronnie Ross

This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, who are asked to give a snap opinion, on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Bert Courtley and Ronnie Ross were interviewed together, because they have so often appeared musically in the same manner – the Ross-Courtley Quintet being probably the best modern group ever to have been formed in Gt. Britain. Ross is our undoubted kingpin of the baritone saxophone. To mention but a few highlights of his career, he played with the International Youth Band at Newport in 1958; recorded with John Lewis and the Stuttgart Symphony; was chosen as the Down Beat magazine New Star in 1959; and will be featured with the International Dream Band in Berlin this month. His pal Bert has played trumpet with all and sundry, from Vic Lewis to Eric Delaney, toured this country with the M.J.Q. and Woody Herman and has been heard with such good British bands as the Don Rendell Jazz Six and the Jazz Committee. He is married to another talented musician, the prettiest tenor saxophonist in captivity, namely Kathleen Stobart. – Sinclair Traill

“Chant of the Weed”. Quincy Jones (Great Wide World of Quincy Jones), Mercury CMS 18031
B.C. Well, that was really excellent. Phil Woods’ alto and Jimmy Cleveland’s trombone solos were very good. The arrangement was interesting – modern – but what got me most was the overall spirit that pervades that band. They sound like they were happy to be playing together.
R.R: Well, frankly, I’ve heard better things than that from the Quincy Jones band. They never seemed to really get down to swinging, never sounded at ease. The time was all kind of chopped up, but that may be the tune – an unusual and rather weird one I thought, and despite what Bert said, I’ve heard Phil Woods play better than that!

“Swinging at The Copper Rail”. Buck Clayton (Songs for Swingers). Philips SBBL 533
B.C: I would have liked a bit more band there, instead of just a string of solos. Some of them were good – Emmett Berry stood out, and Buddy Tale is always a favourite of mine. The rhythm section were excellent, light and beaty; but without any bridge passages, and with no attempt at an arrangement to spark off the soloists, the thing as a whole becomes monotonous.
R.R: I’m not agreeing with Bert today. I enjoyed the feel of that much more than I did the feel of the Quincy Jones record. However, I agree the rhythm was really fine and that some writing would have improved the session. People get tired of just a string of solos these days – just a few bridge passages would have lifted that out of the ordinary. Of the soloists I thought Buddy Tate came off best and the alto player, Earl Warren, worst.

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“Thou Swell”. Benny Carter/Earl Hines (Swinging The ’20’s). Vogue LAC 12225
R.R: Well, Carter has always been an idol of mine, but he has certainly played better than that. He was wonderful when he was here some months ago – every time I heard him, tremendous. Perhaps he was thrown by the drummer, who seemed to be falling over the beat all the time. Hines was very good, quite undisturbed by anything – a master of the piano.
B.C: I didn’t like that a bit. Carter, a wonderful musician, didn’t seem to be able to play in his own basic style – he seems to have got his influences all mixed. The whole thing sounded like studio musicians playing jazz, it was much too super­ficial. All wonderful musicians, but the earthy spirit was missing; they didn’t sound as if they cared. Shelly Manne’s drumming was all wrong for both Hines and Carter.

I think Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis is now really at his peak. The others are all still good, but not quite so inventive as they used to be. But I’d buy that record for “Lockjaw” alone.

“Very Saxy”. Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Eddie Davis, Arnett Cobb. Esquire 32-117
B.C: That was a good old romp! But I’m not too keen on the organ in a rhythm section. Shirley Scott was playing pastiche bop there; she can play better than that. The tenor players are all favourites of mine, in their various ways. Of them all, and I don’t mean particularly on this record, I think Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis is now really at his peak. The others are all still good, but not quite so inventive as they used to be. But I’d buy that record for “Lockjaw” alone.
R.R: Along with accordions, harmonicas and triangles, the organ is my most unfavourite instrument! Actually, I heard Shirley Scott in New York playing at Basie’s Bar and she was great – but she was horrible there, all those stupid runs, done with the thumb – oh no! The tenors got better as the record progressed and Eddie Davis, coming last, just about saved the day. What a great player he is.

“Rhythm-a-ring”. Gerry Mulligan (Mulligan Meets Monk). Riverside RLP 12-247
R.R: Mulligan is my favourite baritone player, but he didn’t come off with Monk there. Two entirely different styles that really didn’t mix. I think Mulligan is a marvellous musician but that was a great disappointment.
B.C: I’ve heard that record before and that wasn’t the best track you played us. I think it was a mistake to mix Monk and Mulligan – they don’t suit. Monk rhythmically gets all out of time there – he doesn’t swing and never sounds happy.

“Sugar Rum Cherry”. Duke Ellington (Nutcracker Suite). Philips 7418
B.C: Not perhaps as impressive as some of Ellington’s own works, but good – and good fun. The saxophones were just lovely – Gonsalves and Carney particularly. I think Duke should stick to his own music, he has so much to give.
R.R: I’m glad you played that, for I knew Duke had re­corded the Nutcracker and had had some misgivings about the outcome of such a project. But it was great, as Bert said, particularly the saxophones. The so-called classics don’t usually make good vehicles for jazz, but anything Ellington turns his hand to seems to be an artistic success. What a tone Harry Carney gets from a baritone – it can only rightly be described as huge.

“I Cried For You”. Billie Holiday (Memorial). Fontana TFL S106
B.C: Well I’m hooked for Billie Holiday, and that parti­cular record knocks me out! Surely there has never been another artist who was able to perform at such a consistently high level. Other favourites of mine have their good and bad days, but Billie, never. The instrumentalists backing her were all perfect.
R.R: Amazing that was recorded in 1936 – might have been yesterday. One point I’d like to make is about Harry Carney. Is that a baritone he’s playing? The sleeve says baritone, but it sounds much more like a tenor to me – did he ever play tenor? It’s almost impossible to say anything about a record like that, except just to sit and listen and say, mar­vellous.

Can’t imagine Louis saying “Look out for these four crochets, man – they’re coming!” But it was just it. The best jazz is often the most simple, isn’t it?

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Louis Armstrong (Louis and The Good Book). Brunswick LAT 8270
B.C: That was just lovely, I enjoyed it immensely. The sound Louis gets out of that trumpet is too much. And his singing, so full of warm feeling and, if I may say so, sincerity. It was all jazz – real jazz. A wonderful record.R.R: Oh yes, that was it! When Louis comes in, after the choir, it was just something out of this world – the timing and the feeling. Those four crotchets he plays there contain more jazz than many other top musicians will ever play in the whole of their careers. Can’t imagine Louis saying “Look out for these four crochets, man – they’re coming!” But it was just it. The best jazz is often the most simple, isn’t it?

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